On IQ tests and actual intelligence

About two weeks ago, on my last day of work at the Christmas market, one of my colleagues came to me while I was pretending to be working on the computer. Out of nowhere, he asked me if I`d ever done any kind of assessment or intelligence test. Somewhat confused, I answered honestly: no, I have not done any kind of official test. Unofficial ones, yes, and a couple of semi-official ones. But other than that, no. Why was he asking?

Turns out I`d been making strange mistakes in some calculations, and he and other colleagues had noticed. I was not surprised by this – I`ve known for a very long time that anything with numbers are a weakness. There are countless examples in my life of what is very likely to be dyscalculia, a type of dyslexia except with numbers instead of letters. But no, I don`t have an official diagnosis. I don`t really want one either. (The fact that I was only told on my very last day is something I`m going to ignore for now. Could`ve told me earlier so I could pay more attention though.)

But his approach to asking me this struck me as kind of odd. What do intelligence assessments have to do with making mistakes with numbers, after all?

I still don`t have an answer from him, whether he thinks I`m actually dumb (news flash: I`m not) or if he assumes that anyone who can`t deal with numbers has an intelligence flaw somehow. I will likely never know.

This led me to thinking again about IQ tests in general, and my opinion of them. Because generally IQ tests and the like don`t score very high with me personally. Oh yes, I score high on them though. I`m consistently above average whenever I do any vague attempt at IQ tests. I`ve scored anywhere between 125 and 140. But this is also one of the main problems I have with it: the margin is just way too big.

I can accept a small margin in IQ test results. Say, anywhere between 120 to 125. After all, a large part of these tests is dependent on how you feel that day. If you`re tired, stressed, or have been eating the wrong foods, the result can go down. Likewise, if you`ve been sleeping well and are generally relaxed yet alert, the results can go up.

But a margin of 15 points? Seems a bit much to me.

Another reason why I don`t agree with intelligence tests, is because of the type of questions they ask. I don`t know about IQ tests in other countries, but assuming they`re similar to the ones here that I remember, they will involve questions concerning vocabulary, spatial awareness, mathematics, and other things you`re generally “supposed” to learn in primary/high school.

Except that often the vocabulary is either very old, obsolete, or just strange/rare. The type of words you know more by coincidence, by having read the exact right book or seen the exact right TV show that happened to ask the same word. While a larger vocabulary is often a sign of more intelligence, picking 3 random, rare words does not prove anything.

Quite often, the rest of the IQ test is either common sense, or mathematics. And if, like me, you`re perfectly capable of calculations, know the theory behind it all, but it just doesn`t grasp in your mind because of dyscalculia, then yes your result will go down immensely.

It does not mean that I am less intelligent. It just means I have a disadvantage because my mind shuts down when it sees numbers, especially if there`s time pressure involved as well.

A large part of the rest of the test is pure “how well can you read this question”, which means it`s not as much a matter of how intelligent you are but more of how much attention you`re paying.

I am intelligent. I speak several languages, can write in at least 3 scripts, graduated with distinction from university. I`m not stupid. I pay attention. I learn very easily, and fast. 

But don`t make me feel stupid for not always being able to handle numbers. Don`t make me feel stupid if I don`t immediately grasp something that is very simple to you. In return, I have no difficulty understanding things you might not immediately grasp.

Intelligence comes in many different types. It`s about time we stop measuring intelligence in terms of maths and spatial awareness, and start looking at things like languages and creativity as well.

Let`s shift from “what is your IQ” to “what type of intelligence do you have”. Sounds much better, yes? 

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